Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prayer Request

Canadian friend of this blog and all-around cool kitty Lissla Lissar sent in the following:

I wanted to leave a prayer request for you and all your readers- our good friend (and younger son's godfather) has been hospitalized and requires major aortic surgery. His wife is asking for as many people praying as possible.

His name is David and he's 27.

Dear readers, please pray.  May God reward you for your prayers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Feast Day

In a garden shady this holy lady
With reverent cadence and subtle psalm,
Like a black swan as death came on
Poured forth her song in perfect calm:
And by ocean's margin this innocent virgin
Constructed an organ to enlarge her prayer,
And notes tremendous from her great engine
Thundered out on the Roman air. . . .

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

--W.H. Auden

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Betwixt the Stirrup and the Ground

At Mass today, the deacon noted that Saint Dismas, one of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus, is the only individual in the Gospels who Christ says is going to heaven.  This struck me powerfully.  Dismas, "the good thief," makes his confession, as it were, to Christ Himself, seeming to examine the sins of his life in the briefest of moments before admitting that he has been "condemned justly," and then professes, in another brief moment, Christ's kingship.  And Christ replies with the beautiful words: "This day you will be with me in Paradise."

This seems to me a profound teaching about the Divine Mercy, the mercy that confounds and reverses every human expectation; as the Elizabethan geographer William Camden is supposed to have written:

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I ask'd; mercy I found.

It's probably safe to speculate that some of the saints of the Gospels -- Dismas, Paul, the Magdalene -- were, in their lives before their conversions, capable of evils as great or greater than those we decry in our contemporaries.  It's therefore also safe to assume that God's great mercy is available to any and all of us, no matter who we may be or what we may have done, and at all times.

St. Dismas, pray for us.

(Cross-posted at Vox Nova)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Adoption came about because of brokenness . . . "

An anonymous commenter recently called me an "evil bitch," and suggested that hell was holding a special place for me, because my family is pursuing an adoption.  As Lora Lynn at Vita Familiae concedes, adoption is complicated at best:

Let’s begin with this:  Adoption is messy.  The idea behind adoption is beautiful.  But adoption came about because of brokenness.  Because of our fallen world.  Injustice is inevitable within such a framework.  Heartbreak is part and parcel to adoption.  We knew this on an intellectual level when we started.  But to have felt it, to have lived some of the injustice, the waiting, the loss… and knowing we’ve only barely tasted one side of the story… It feels overwhelming.

Read the rest here.

Powerlessness and Transportation

I have a new post up at Vox Nova, which, for longtime readers here, retreads familiar territory about moving from New York City to Appalachia.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Update on NYC Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The New York City Council opened hearings this week on the bill that would restrict and mandate the language used by crisis pregnancy centers.  One witness testified, in support of the bill, that the acronym EMC (for Expectant Mother Care, which runs a dozen crisis pregnancy centers around town) "sounds medical" and is, therefore, misleading, while others suggested that unsuspecting pregnant women seeking abortions might think that organizations called Bridge to Life, the Sisters of Life, or Life Center performed them, and would thus, hypothetically, be deceived.

Since no business, i.e. the exchange of money for goods or services, takes place in the crisis pregnancy centers, however, chances are good that the bill will not pass, and that, if it does, it will be challenged immediately on its lack of constitutionality.

For more, go here.

Adoption Networks, Please Re-Post: Polish Children in Need of Adoption

I received this email from a Polish friend and wanted to pass it on here,  in the hope that someone might know of the right families for these children.


A woman (Anna Maria), who adopted 3 polish children 10 years ago (just recently returned to the orphanage in Poland for a visit), has been asked by the sisters (Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Czestochowa) to help get the word out that there are 2 different sibling groups of four children each (ages ranging from 2-9) that they are trying to find homes for. These nuns who run the orphanage do not want to see the children split from their siblings. If you all know anyone who might be in a position to adopt a sibling group from Poland, please pass on this information! Anna Maria's number is 703-203-2901. She is here in the U.S. and does speak Polish. If anyone is seriously interested, Anna Maria said she would be glad to talk to them.

Here is the oprhanage directress's contact information:

Sr. Alina Syliwoniuk
Dom Malych Dzieci Home of small children (Orphanage)im. E. Bojanowskiego
E. Bojanowski ul. sw. Kazimierza 1 1
St. Casimir Str 42-200
Czestochowa 42-200

Sr. Alina's phone number is (011) +48(0)34-324- 67-51.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Morning sickness, or the sickness of mourning?"

Someone just sent me this moving music video by Nick Cannon, the actor, rapper, and husband of Mariah Carey, in which he tells the story of his mother's decision not to abort him.

In spite of their dependence on the African-American voting block, many liberal politicians have consistently misread the feelings of blacks about abortion.  This cultural tone-deafness has been expressed in cynical attempts by pro-choice groups to add more members of color to their ranks, in spite of the fact that the abortion rate among black women is far, far greater than their representation in society, that most African Americans are pro-life, and that many consider the rampant practice of abortion in their communities to be a form of genocide.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vox Nova

I'm excited to announce that I've been invited to contribute to a site which I've long admired, Vox Nova.  My blogging friends Kyle Cupp and Radical Catholic Mom are contributors there as well, and I feel honored to join them and their estimable colleagues in what I hope will be a fruitful ongoing discussion of art and culture in the Catholic context.  I expect I'll be working my regular beats over at Vox Nova -- exploring the theologies of beauty and empathy, and the evocative crossings of music, memory, and faith -- and, in the interest of time, which is limited for the foreseeable future, I expect to be mostly cross-posting.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I'm still tethered to my desk editing a dense musicological tome, but I took a break this weekend to read a book I'd put on my holds list at the local library, Room, by Irish-born Canadian writer Emma Donoghue.  We were out of town at a wedding, and I sat on the lid of the toilet seat in the bathroom of our hotel room so as to be able to read it into the wee small hours without waking my family.  I found the novel so profoundly affecting that I am taking still more time from my deadline-dependent work to write about it here.

Room is the story of five-year-old Jack, who, as the narrative begins, has lived his entire life, along with his mother, in captivity in an eleven-by-eleven foot room.  When the two are unexpectedly thrust into the world, both must learn to redefine their relationship to it, and to each other, in ways that are, in a sense, even more painful and traumatizing than their captivity has been.  Donoghue draws freely upon children's "reversal" literature, most prominently Alice in Wonderland, to present the reader with the story of one of the great developmental dilemmas faced by all children -- how to understand, interpret, and navigate reality -- made exponentially more poignant for Jack by the sensory and social deprivation of his early years.

Jack's narrative voice is captivating, and his young mother is a giant of strength, love, and resourcefulness, who, in their imprisonment, has turned Jack's cruelly confined world into one of beauty and adventure.  The two are completely dependent upon each other, and the transition to a less-enmeshed relationship is one of the most difficult challenges Jack faces in "Outside."  For this reason, I think the book speaks especially to mothers, whose most important task is preparing and allowing our children to stand on their own and to emerge into a world not bounded or defined by us.  As the mother of a son approaching Jack's age -- a boy who, like Jack, has outstanding strengths, coupled with significant difficulties negotiating the sensory and social worlds -- I felt an even deeper kinship with the novel's narrator.

In addition to the compelling character of Jack, and the delicately-drawn relationship between him and his mother, Room fascinated me for its description of a child developing in confinement, a topic that has been an interest of mine since I saw Werner Herzog's film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser while an undergrad, and, later, sang the wonderful Brahms settings of poetry by Georg Friedrich Daumer, who had cared for Kaspar Hauser after the latter was found, as a young man, wandering the streets of Nuremberg after a life spent in captivity.

I loved this book so much that I am going to try to sneak in a second read before it's due back at the library.

Here is an interesting clip of Emma Donoghue explaining how she devised Jack's narrative voice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy Birthday (Re-post from November 8, 2008) UPDATED

. . . to Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980), shown above at Mass with César Chávez and Coretta Scott King.

In her own words:  [UPDATE:  NB:  Phil Runkel, the archivist of the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University, has noted in a comment that Dan Lynch's essay, quoted below, apparently does not contain nor represent the actual words of Dorothy Day, who wrote about her abortion only obliquely in her novel The Eleventh Virgin.  Mr. Lynch seems, rather, to be imagining what Day might have said about this matter, based on his reading of the novel and her biographers.]

"'[P]hysical sensations' allured me. I lived a social-activist Bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village, New York City. I think back and remember myself, hurrying along from party to party, and all the friends, and the drinking, and the talk, and the crushes, and falling in love. I fell in love with a newspaperman named Lionel Moise. I got pregnant. He said that if I had the baby, he would leave me. I wanted the baby but I wanted Lionel more. So I had the abortion and I lost them both. . . .

I hobbled down the darkened stairwell of the Upper East Side flat in New York City. My steps were unsteady. My left arm held the banister tightly. My right arm clutched my abdomen. It was burning in pain. I walked out onto the street alone in the dark. It was in September of 1919. I was twenty-one years old and I had just aborted my baby.

. . . . Lionel, my boyfriend, promised to pick me up at the flat after it was all over. I waited in pain from nine a.m. to ten p.m. but he never came. When I got home to his apartment I found only a note. He said he had left for a new job and, regarding my abortion, that I 'was only one of God knows how many millions of women who go through the same thing. Don’t build up any hopes. It is best, in fact, that you forget me.'

. . . . I always had a great regret for my abortion. In fact, I tried to cover it up and to destroy as many copies of The Eleventh Virgin [her 1924 autobiographical novel, in which she wrote about the abortion] as I could find. But my priest chided me and said, 'You can’t have much faith in God if you’re taking the life given to you and using it that way. God is the one who forgives us if we ask, and it sounds like you don’t even want forgiveness — just to get rid of the books.' I never forgot what the priest pointed out — the vanity or pride at work in my heart. Since that time I wasn’t as worried as I had been. If you believe in the mission of Jesus Christ, then you’re bound to try to let go of your past, in the sense that you are entitled to His forgiveness. To keep regretting what was, is to deny God’s grace."

(See "Dorothy Day's Pro-Life Memories" by Dan Lynch.)

John Cardinal O'Connor, the late Archbishop of New York who opened her cause for canonization, said of Day, in a sermon at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on the 100th anniversary of her birth:

"[A]fter becoming a Catholic, she learned the love and mercy of the Lord, and knew she never had to worry about His forgiveness. (This is why I have never condemned a woman who has had an abortion; I weep with her and ask her to remember Dorothy Day's sorrow but to know always God's loving mercy and forgiveness.) She had died before I became Archbishop of New York, or I would have called on her immediately upon my arrival. Few people have had such an impact on my life, even though we never met."

Servant of God Dorothy Day, pray for us all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Voices That Have Gone, Part 11: Missing Lorraine

The deaths of Shirley Verrett and Joan Sutherland have made me think of opera's most scandalous recent loss, that of the great mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson four years ago to breast cancer at the age of fifty-two.  I've written about Lorraine here more than once, and I was outrageously fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear her live on several occasions (though I also bowed out of attending three different, now-legendary performances she gave in New York in the 1990s, for reasons that seem, in hindsight, incredibly foolish).  I found myself missing her today, and wondering what she would be singing, and how, if she had gone on living.  And, while it may seem strange to miss a public figure whom you've never met, LHL inspired fervent devotion among those who heard her.

The witty, catty operaphile who blogs as Opera Chic wrote a brief and moving tribute to Lorraine a few years back that says it better than I could.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Voices That Have Gone, Part 10: Farewell to the Black Callas

Another sad loss for opera:  the death of the great African-American soprano Shirley Verrett, with whom my beloved voice teacher Barbara Conrad sang in the 1970s and 1980s.  R.I.P.

Here is a stunning performance by Madame Verrett of the "Liebestod" form Tristan und Isolde.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How It Happened

While my son has been in his special pre-K program for three hours a day, I have been spending my time alone at my desk, editing a musicology book for an academic publisher, taking breaks only to drag my reluctant self to the piano to practice for a very demanding gig that I have next month.  A couple of weeks ago, I subscribed to the feed of a blog that I discovered through the process of clicking through links on other blogs, and I no longer remember what the source of the link was, or exactly how or why or from where I started the clicking process.  The blog's author is an orthodox Catholic woman who was at the same stage in the adoption process that our family was: her home study had just been approved, and she was waiting for a placement.

I had begun a novena to St. Jude in advance of his feast day, asking, among other things, that he would petition God to add more children to our family.  Two days before his feast day, on October 26, I was working on the book when an email came in from the Catholic adoption blog.  A new post was up, feauturing a picture of a gorgeous, smiling baby boy, and the news that he desperately needed a home.  I emailed the blog author with my phone number, and she called me back within seconds -- from a Bronx exchange.  It turns out that she lives about a mile away from my old home in the Bronx, that we have certain salient things in common, and that our husbands are both close friends of a particular Irish priest, a very wonderful man with whom my husband gets together whenever he goes back to New York.  The blog author had dearly wanted to adopt the little boy in the picture, but was unable to.  She had started the process, and had had a medical specialist examine his file, but, when her plans unraveled, she decided, out of love for him, to find him a good Catholic home.

She sent me his entire file by email.  I showed it to my husband, who said, "Aren't there any abandoned children closer to home?" and, then, "You know we'll have to go to China to get him," and then, "What about the money?"  As it turns out, because the boy is special-needs, the cost of adopting him will be roughly the same as it would be to adopt locally, as we had planned.  I told my husband that, if God wants us to do this, the money will be there (and, in fact, I'm waiting to get paid for the editing job, and hoping the check will come very soon so that I can turn some of it over to the adoption agency).  We started praying for the baby boy and for God's will in the matter.  My son was especially touched by the fact that little Jude (as it only makes sense to call him) doesn't have a mother or father.

From a purely rational standpoint, our local adoption process can only succeed if a birth mother chooses us to be her child's family, which theoretically might never happen.  Here is a baby who came to us in the most unusual way, who needs a family; it just doesn't make sense to turn him away.

He will need at least one surgery, perhaps more, for a condition that's not life-threatening, but which may or may not be quite complicated.  By the grace of God, we have access to excellent medical care, including a world-class hospital about a hundred miles away which treats a lot of special-needs adopted children.

I phoned the adoption agency to tell them we wanted to adopt Jude.  The coordinator told me another family was considering him, and, because they were already signed up with the agency, she would have to tell them first and give them first priority.  I got off the phone, cried, said a decade of the rosary, and emailed my new friend about it.  I immediately got a phone call from the Bronx:  "You call them right back and tell them that the person who makes the commitment is the one who gets first priority, not the person who's already signed!"  So I did that.  The coordinator said, "Um, hang on a second," put me on hold, and came back on a moment later, saying, "Congratulations."  So now I'm sifting through more paperwork.  And I have to enclose a sizable check.  Please pray that I'll get paid for my editing job soon!

In considering little Jude's medical problems, I had to reflect on the sense I have of my life: that I'm called to love people not in spite of their imperfections, but because of them.  Of course, I have to pray every day for the courage, wisdom, patience, and humility to fulfill this calling.

And it's also true that every gift comes with the cross.  Nonetheless, it would be silly to expect a perfect baby when I'm so far short of perfect myself.

Thank you, friends, for your prayers. I will keep you updated.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Unexpectedly Happy News

The matter that was placed before Saint Jude has been embarked upon: we are adopting a special-needs baby boy from China.

I will write more about it over time.  It was quite unexpected, since we'd been planning to adopt locally, and still may.  But this little boy was brought to our attention in a most unusual and unanticipated manner, and it appeared to have God's fingerprints all over it. 

Please pray for us.